“They look like pigs,” my fishing buddy Jimmy Valeriote says of yellow perch, “because they eat like pigs.” The southern Ontario perch-meister divides his fishing time between Lake Erie and Lake Simcoe, two of the planet’s finest perch fisheries. And he says fall is the time for both big fish and big schools.
“They’re always sliding in or out, looking for the cool-water transition,” Valeriote says. Accordingly, he pays special attention to wind direction, especially on Erie. “The ideal situation is a north offshore wind that sweeps the warm surface water out into the middle of the lake, while pulling the cooler water up from the bottom and into the shallows.”
Valeriote says Erie is strictly a bait bite, owing to the huge round goby population. “If you’re not using minnows, you’re going to get out-fished 10 to one by someone who is,” he says. “It’s just crazy how many four-inch gobies a 12- to 15-inch perch will cough up. When I look in the livewell at the end of the day, it’s littered with gobies. It looks like a bomb went off.” That’s not the case with Lake Simcoe or the other inland lakes he fishes, however, where small spoons and soft-plastics produce as well as live bait.
On Simcoe, Valeriote will typically offer the perch a choice for dinner, using a drop-shot rig with a small tube jig serving as the weight on the end of the line. A foot or above that, he tips a #4 Tru-Turn hook with an emerald shiner (below). On Lake Erie, he sticks with a drop-shot rig featuring a ⅜- to one-ounce sinker—depending on the depth and current speed—with his hook only four inches above it. “The reason I place the hook so close to the sinker is because gobies never leave the bottom,” he says.
Valeriote routinely cuts his shiners in half so they leave behind a juicy scent trail. “When the water is clear, it’s less important,” he says, “but when there’s only four inches of visibility, the perch go into taste mode using the current to home into your bait.” Indeed, Valeriote says odour can be such a powerful draw that when two or three friends accompany him, the group typically catches more perch than when he fishes alone.
As for prime perch places, Valeriote says locating isolated patches of gravel on an otherwise soft mud or clay bottom can spell instant success. “In the old days, before we had the Spot-Lock and i-Pilot features on our electric trolling motors to hold us on a location, we’d double anchor so the boat didn’t move,” he says. “I’ll never forget seeing all the gravel on the discs when we pulled them up.”
You might think that with so many giant yellow perch piled under his boat, Valeriote would favour light, finesse-style gear to trick them, but that’s not the case. Instead, he spools his spinning reels with thin, 12- to 20-pound-test braid or gel-spun line. Using a small barrel swivel, he then attaches a three- to four-foot length of 12-pound-test fluorocarbon as a leader. “It’s a pack mentality in the fall,” he says. “When you’re handling as many fish as I am, you don’t break them off with that leader and it doesn’t bother the perch. They just want to eat meat.”
The way Valeriote sees it, fall fishing is all about capitalizing on opportunities and keeping the fish around. “You can go more finesse if you like,” he says, “but you’re not going to catch any more fish.”